Despite some similarities between Wahhabism and Qutb's support for violent jihad, Wahhabism did not influence him ideologically. Initially he was an admirer of America, but his two-year-long exposure to the country was enough to turn him into its bitter critic. He supported the Nasser-led military revolution against the pro-Western Egyptian monarchy. However, Nasser and Qutb had different visions for Egypt; the former championed secular Arab Nationalism and the latter favoured “Islamic” rule. Qutb also favoured transformation of the entire world through “global jihad.” He believed that jihad was not defensive but an offensive total war against non-Muslims and whatever represented jahiliyya or ignorance. In short, Qutb considered truce or peace undesirable and continuous “jihad” the most desirable thing for a good Muslim.i
In view of the apparent transformation of the MB into a “pro-democracy” party, Tariq Ali believes it to be “not too different from Christian Democratic Parties in Western Europe.”ii Former CIA agent and author Bruce Riedel, among others, believes that since the MB “has long renounced violence” there is nothing to fear this Islamist outfit.iii President Carter expressed similar views. However, Anthony Martin seems to be right that since Egypt like other Muslim nations in the region has thoroughly embraced “fundamental Islam,” Carter's optimism about the MB smacks of his lack of understanding of Islamism in the Arab World. ivThe MB has not given up its transnational jihad. We should not forget the legacy of the MB, which is anything but democratic. It aims at establishing a “global caliphate” through violence. I think “the true intentions of the Brotherhood are far more sinister than the lovely speeches” its leaders give; and that they “dream of a worldwide, all powerful Islamic Caliphate;” and that “they look forward to the day they can tear up the peace treaty with Israel.” vThen again, the MB leaves no stone unturned to project itself as a liberal democratic organisation. Its webpage conveniently projects Bin Laden's criticism of the organisation for discarding Sayyid Qutb's hard-line policy, in support of MB's “liberal credentials.”vi
The MB's radical offshoots have been more dangerous than the parent organization. These include the Al Gama'a al-Islamiyya in Egypt, al Takfir wal Hijra in the Arab World, Hamas in Gaza and last but not least, al-Qaeda. Many analysts believe that the MB has ceased to be an Islamist threat; and Salafist al-Nour is a bigger threat to peace than the pro-MB Freedom and Justice Party of Egypt, which captured 47% of votes in the parliamentary elections of 2011/12. President Mohamed Morsi asserted in April 2012 that he was for a “United States of Arabia” with Jerusalem as its capital. He, however, gave mixed and contradictory signals about his party's actual aims and objectives.vii In short, at least in rhetoric, the MB is not a political party but a movement for “global caliphate” through “jihad.” Some scholars ridicule people who consider the MB as “moderate Islamist” and “democrat.” They find Obama administration's perception of the MB as “largely secular” and “pluralistic” problematic. One analyst asserts that the party has neither denounced “jihad” against “takfir” (“who have denounced Islam”) nor has it renounced the concept of establishing an “Islamic State” by force. Morsi is said to have asserted that he would conquer Egypt “for the second time, and make all Christians convert to Islam, or else pay the jizya.”viii
Although there are uncertainties about the future of Shariah and the MB in Egypt and their implications on democracy, human rights, women, non-Muslims, and Western interests in the country,ix there is hardly any Arab country -- from Morocco to Iraq --without MB followers and active members. Interestingly, although primarily a Sunni Muslim organisation committed to establishing a Sunni “global caliphate,” the MB has Shiite followers and sympathisers in Iran and elsewhere. Even Chechen rebels in Russia consider the MB their role model. Thousands among the Muslim Diasporas in North America and Europe are MB sympathisers. Although Hafiz al-Assad crushed the MB during the 1982 Hama uprising by killing around 25,000 Syrian sympathisers of the outfit, yet thanks to American and Arab League support, the MB regained some lost ground in Syria during the anti-Bashar Assad rebellion in 2012.x Then again, the MB in Syria is not an independent entity. It heavily relies on guidance from MB leaders in Cairo.xi
The MB is ambivalent about its methods of capturing power: (a) It believes in Islam to be a “complete system” to regulate every aspect of a Muslim's private and public affairs; (b) It is not a nationalist but a “supranational” organisation, aiming at establishing a global caliphate where Shariah will remain the “sole basis of government”; (c) As Sayyid Qutb explains, the MB considers the world beyond the realm of Islam as jahiliyya or “ignorance,” which could only be transformed into the “Kingdom of God” through “physical power and jihad” by outmanoevring the “wicked powers of Jews and Christians”; (d) There are, however, MB leaders who disagree with Qutb's radicalism. Some Al Azhar sheikhs even declared him a “deviant.” Nevertheless, Sayyid Qutb's writings have profoundly influenced radical “Brothers” and al-Qaeda supporters.
Although it is difficult to foresee if Egypt will become another “Iran” or “Algeria” in the near future, yet there is every likelihood that Islam if not Islamism will mould Egypt's domestic and foreign policies in the coming years. And this development will not be palatable to either America or Israel. Although the creation of Israel did not hurt Egypt economically, yet Egyptians fought four wars against Israel. The vast majority of Egyptian Muslims -- irrespective of their ideology and level of commitment to their faith -- are unwilling to recognise Israel. A country without any liberal democratic traditions, with more than a quarter of unemployed youth, poverty and unequal distribution of wealth, and last but not least, under the growing influence of Islamist supremacists, Egypt is destined to rise as a “flashpoint” of “global jihad.” The apparently transformed Muslim Brotherhood with a new name, Freedom and Justice Party since April 2011, has not renounced the old MB credo: “God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.”xii Despite its setbacks in the wake of the July 2013 military coup that toppled the Morsi regime, one cannot rule out the re-emergence of the MB with new vigour, and possibly with a new name.
In view of the phenomenal rise of the MB in Egypt, as we have no reasons to be optimistic about the country's peaceful transition to democracy, so do we have no reason to be that alarmist about an immediate Islamisation of the polity. The country is sharply polarised between Islamists and secular Arab nationalists who believe in Christian-Muslim understanding. However, in view of the growing violence against Christians and liberal Muslims since the overthrow of Mubarak, it was evident soon after Morsi's election as the president that he would not be able to appease liberal Muslims, Christians, Islamist extremists and the powerful Egyptian military at the same time. Morsi's decision to welcome President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who was “deeply unpopular with Egyptian citizens and political players,” on February 5, 2013 was his “strange gamble,” as one analyst has rightly pointed out.xiii Morsi's hobnobbing with the Iranian regime, which is a bête noire to America and Saudi Arabia, was a big factor behind the overthrow of his regime through a mass upheaval-cum- military takeover. There is no reason to believe that the July coup was purely a military takeover by Mubarak loyalists and anti-Islamist forces in the country. Secretary John Kerry indirectly confirmed his country's tacit support for the military rulers of Egypt, who he praised restoring democracy in the country.xiv
The ongoing bloody conflict between MB followers on the one hand and the military, Salafists and liberal Egyptians on the other, has all the potentials to drag Egypt into a long-drawn civil war. Egypt does not have any leader with Nasser's charisma, foresight and honesty to nip Islamists in the bud. He not only dissolved the MB after the first signs of its support for terrorism and radical Islamisation of Egypt, but he also arrested some 15,000 MB members and executed many, including Sayyid Qutb. We may agree with the view that: “It would have been so much easier to stop Hitler, say before [italics in original] he crossed the Rhine -- but how many voices were there then insisting he was just a tin-pot dictator who would never be a serious threat to anyone?”xiv
The MB is very different from other political parties. One just cannot become a member without going through a five/eight-year stringent indoctrination process to prove one's loyalty and commitment to its ideology. Very similar to the Jamaat-e-Islami, the MB believes in gradual infiltration of its ideology among the masses and portrays itself a believer in democracy. During the anti-Mubarak movement in Egypt, “far from emulating Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, they [MB leaders] channeled Thomas Paine, calling for civil liberties, religious equality, and an end to Mubarak's dictatorship.”xvi As one senior Jamaat-e-Islami leader of Bangladesh told me in 1991, the Jamaat would come to power through “other means” not elections, it seems Mohamed Morsi conveyed the same message to his interviewer in 2010: “Our program is a long-term one, not a short-term one. If we are rushing things, then I don't think that this leads to a real stable position.” Irrespective of what we believe about the MB, (a) its alleged “long-term” plan for establishing Islamic theocracies across the Middle East; (b) its suspected American connections (America is said to have undertaken the project to promote MB, JI in South Asia and Saudi Wahhabism to contain Iran and Islamist extremists like al-Qaeda), we cannot ignore what the grassroots in the Muslim World really want. They sometimes go ahead of their leaders and do things beyond their expectations and control. The grassroots across the Muslim World want democracy, freedom, human rights and dignity, not theocracy and American hegemony.
i Natana J. Delong-Bas, Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad, Oxford University Press, New York 2004, pp.218-65
ii British Marxist writer Tariq Ali's interview, Outlook Magazine, April 23, 2012 http://www.outlookindia.com/printarticle.aspx?280564 (accessed May 21, 2012)
iii Bruce Riedel, “Don't Fear Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood”, Daily Beast, January 27, 2011 http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/01/27/muslim-brotherhood-could-win-in-egypt-protests-and-why-obama-shouldnt-worry.html?cid=bs:archive1 (accessed May 22, 2012)
iv Anthony Martin, “Does Carter's statement on the Muslim Brotherhood miss the point?”, The Examiner, February 27, 2011 http://www.examiner.com/article/does-carter-s-statement-on-the-muslim-brotherhood-miss-the-point (accessed May 22, 2012)
v “Truth Or Consequences -The Two Faces Of The Muslim Brotherhood. Part Two”, The Inquisitr, April 14, 2012, http://www.inquisitr.com/219967/truth-or-consequences-the-two-faces-of-the-muslim-brotherhood-part-two/ (accessed May 22, 2012)
vi Marwan Bishara, “Islam can not always be blamed: It appears Islam is not an appropriate scapegoat after all”, January 19, 2010 http://www.ikhwanweb.com/article.php?id=22699 (accessed May 15, 2012)
vii Al-Nas TV (Egypt) - May 1, 2012 - 04:18, http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/3431.htm; http://www.ikhwanweb.com/article.php?id=28088; BBC News 30 April 2011: “Muslim Brotherhood sets up new party Mohammed al-Mursi insisted the new party would not be theocratic”, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13249434
viii Raymond Ibrahim, “The Evils of the Muslim Brotherhood: Evidence Keeps Mounting”, Middle East Forum, http://www.meforum.org/3272/muslim-brotherhood-evils , June 25, 2012 (accessed June 26, 2012)
ix Nathan J. Brown, “Egypt and Islamic Sharia: A Guide for the Perplexed”, Carnegie Endowment, May 15, 2012, http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/05/15/egypt-and-islamic-sharia-guide-for-perplexed/argb (accessed May 17, 2012)
x “Syria's Muslim Brotherhood is gaining influence over anti-Assad revolt”, Washington Post, May 12, 2012
xi Eric Draitser, “ Syria, Egypt and Beyond: Unmasking the Muslim Brotherhood”, Counterpunch, December 13, 2012
xii http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/mb.htm (accessed February 24, 2013)
xiii Max Fisher, “Mohamed Morsi's strange gamble on Iran and Ahmadinejad”, Washington Post, February 5, 2013
xiv “Kerry Says Egypt's Military Was 'Restoring Democracy' in Ousting Morsi”, New York Times, August 2, 2013
xv Raymond Ibrahim, “Muslim Brotherhood: 'Impose Islam … Step by Step'”, Middle East Forum, http://www.meforum.org/2995/muslim-brotherhood-impose-islam” June 26, 2012 (accessed June 26, 2012)
xvi Eric Trager, “The Unbreakable Muslim Brotherhood: Grim Prospects for a Liberal Egypt”, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2011
xvii Eric Trager,“The Muslim Brotherhood's Long Game: Egypt's Ruling Party Plots its Path to Power”, Foreign Affairs, July 5, 2012.
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University at Clarksville, Tennessee. Sage has recently published his latest book, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.
(to be continued tomorrow)